Helsinki Zoo (Korkeasaari) is one of the oldest in the world and is home to a treasury of animals that seem very exotic to us Southern Hemisphere folk. Established in 1889 it is housed on an island which you can access by ferry or bus. On a sunny but crisp spring day we took the bus, as like many things in Finland the ferries are on limited service until June.
The girl in the ticket office told us no balloons were allowed inside the zoo so we had to hand over the one Miko had been given at Helsinki Central Railway Station and leave it in the office with my name on it. I thought this was a good idea as I do worry about balloon skins being left around where birds or small animals can eat them.
Like most people I have mixed feelings about zoos but if they’re for education this zoo really did provide us with an opportunity to see animals we have never seen before or have only seen in books. It was wonderful, like walking around Dr Doolittle’s island or a world where new animals are invented. Some animals looked familiar with just a slight difference about them – like the Mongolian horses or Hemione who were no doubt offended by us mistakenly calling them ‘donkeys‘.
We were greeted at the front of the zoo by a sign warning us about the Canadian geese on site. It’s breeding season here and they are aggressively protecting their nests at the moment. Built at ground level the nests are quite large and dotted throughout the zoo gardens. One bird will sit on top of three or so eggs while its mate fiercely launches attacks on hapless passersby. It made for a day of much dodging and squealing as these large birds bore down on people honking and flapping their wings while the nest-warmer smugly changed position on top of its brood.
Due to the cold temperatures here some animals are moved inside for winter and so there are no elephants, giraffes or zebras like we see at home. Inside the Tropical House we saw lots of crazy little moustachioed tamarins that could fit comfortably in your hand if they would sit still long enough. They are named Keisaritamariini in reference to the moustache favoured by the German Emperor at the end of the 1800s.
We spent most the day saying ‘What is that?’ and searching for the names of each species of animal on its sign. We saw Brazilian Aguti, Patagonian Mara and Vicuna, Bactrian camels with two shaggy humps and Pére David’s deer which looked a bit like reindeer to us. It was really hard to take photos that do the zoo and its inhabitants justice but I really recommend checking out the Helsinki Zoo website which includes information in English and pictures of ice sculpting and other events.
And what of the balloon? Well, I dutifully approached the girl in the ticket office and said ‘Um, there’s a balloon here for Mel?’ and gave it to Miko who then saw the ice cream stand and in his excitement let go of the string. We watched the balloon immediately head high up in the sky, giddy with new found freedom after listening to the girls in the office for the last three hours, and can only hope it headed back to the city and not to Korkeasaari.